Larree Lust Ponders Purpose and Narration

The writing process.

Elation, anxiety, doubt, fear.

Larree Lust image
Larree Lust considers changing her storyteller

Despite which, I am looking forward to this journey over the next six months to finish an ongoing project: a draft of a novel that has been languishing. The support of Te Papa Tupu programme is an opportunity and a privilege to be involved with.

So, timelines, character lines, sketches, charts – the paint on my office wall is taking a beating.

And this journal is proving to be difficult. At least with a novel, the author can hide in the story; a journal seems far more transparent.

Excerpt from project: novel

Boys wait, bundled together into the large bedroom above the front verandah. They sit three to a bed, against the window sill, squat on the floor throwing dice, toss cards into corners, wage pennies, examine the dirt under their fingernails. Jokes fall on silence, as they swear at each under their breath. The once teasing, jovial, blithe voices subdued into apprehension. Sarah slips into the room, Hone barks at her to get back where she belongs.

They wait, until one at a time they are summoned down stairs to the TV lounge turned interview cell. Some slink, others strut, a few saunter. Hands in pockets, held tight to their sides, in fists, sweaty palms wiped on the sides of their jeans. They stand, are stood, answer yes and no to questions they probably do not understand, asked by imperious men in suits and white shirts with slack ties, before being sent back upstairs with strict instructions not to discuss, with anyone. They did not need to be told. What did they have to tell? They mutter under their breaths.

In the kitchen Iri bustles from the tea urn to slicing fruit cake and cutting the crusts from tomato sandwiches. She serves the men in the suits; the uniforms help themselves from the sideboard in the front hallway. Pap says for her to sit down, it’s not your fault; let the girls get the tea. But Iri keeps her hands busy, her eyes down; it’s what she does best.

Mark Sweet Wakes the Sleeping Zhu Mao

Brian Bargh of HUIA left a message. He asked I return his call. ‘It’s good news,’ he said. I went all goose pimply, and great gulps of excitement came tinged with fear.

Mark Sweet
Mark Sweet starts his writing journey in China with the draft novel Zhu Mao.

I began writing Zhu Mao three years ago at the start of the Diploma of Creative Writing course at Whitireia Polytechnic. When I applied, I submitted a short story, one of many, interconnected, which I wanted to shape into a novel. But the opportunity to write a new novel was too much, and Adrienne Jansen encouraged my fresh idea.

It was based around two experiences of traveling in China in the 1980s. One involved infanticide of baby girls, the other execution of criminals. The story grew and, at times, took on a life of its own. I spent a month in Wudangshan, the birthplace of t’ai chi, and found a setting for the story. I loved the process. In the end, I rushed to finish and was awarded a C+. I was gutted and let Zhu Mao sleep for two years.

During that time, I came to see my final assessment as fair. And I learned a big lesson. Anna Rogers was my mentor, and assessor, but I took scant heed of her opinion. Now, I see that all she told me was sound advice.

Late last year, I met the author Elspeth Sandys and asked her if she would critique my manuscript. She was encouraging but highlighted major problems with structure and genre; much the same as Anna.

I’d been dabbling at rewriting Zhu Mao for a few months, growing increasingly frustrated at my lack of editorial crafting skills, when my sister emailed about Te Papa Tupu incubator programme.

Being chosen for the programme is a gift for which I am deeply grateful. The opportunity to work with a mentor, and the means to concentrate on writing for six months, makes the completion of Zhu Mao an achievable goal.

My thanks to those in the Māori Literature Trust, Huia Publishers, Creative New Zealand, and Te Puni Kōkiri who have developed and promoted Te Papa Tupu.